Question: "Is there misogyny in the Bible? What is a misogynist?"
Answer: A misogynist is a person who hates or looks down on women. The term misogyny generally refers to attitudes and behaviors that degrade, insult, or abuse women on the basis of their gender. Examples of misogyny would be treating women as morally or intellectually inferior to men, allowing for female abuse, or referring to women using hateful or abusive language. Critics of Christianity sometimes claim there is misogyny in the Bible, but such claims are contradicted by both the Scriptures and history.
Unfortunately, those seeking to expose misogyny in the Bible often use the same misguided approach as those seeking to justify misogyny with the Bible. That is, they tear single verses from their immediate context, force modern cultural conventions onto ancient cultures, and neglect the overall message being put forward. Worse, they ignore the profoundly positive effect biblical Christianity has had for women worldwide.
A simple consideration of context eliminates most claims of misogyny in the Bible. A perfect example of this is Ephesians 5:22–24, which says wives are to submit to their husbands “as to the Lord.” Critics and misogynists alike prefer to cite those words—out of context—to support the claim that the Bible teaches women are to be subjugated to men. However, the very next words command husbands to love their wives “just as Christ loved the church” (Ephesians 5:25) and to love them “as their own bodies,” providing and caring for them just as Christ does for His church (Ephesians 5:28–30). Considering that Christ acted as a servant to His disciples (John 13:5) and commanded us to do the same (John 13:13–16)—even sacrificing His life for their sake (John 15:12–14)—it’s impossible to justify a misogynist interpretation of Ephesians 5.
Misogyny is diametrically opposed to the teaching of the Bible. According to Scripture, all people are absolutely equal in the eyes of God regardless of gender, race, and ability (Galatians 3:28). Further, women were treated as valued and respected persons both by Christ and the early church. Jesus rescued a guilty woman from her accusers (John 8:9–11), was referred to as “teacher” by Mary and Martha (John 11:28), and openly taught the woman at the well (John 4:9–10), in defiance of social pressures. The early church not only attracted women followers (Acts 8:12; 17:12), but many of them were instrumental in the proclamation of the gospel (Philippians 4:3).
In many ways, the Bible countered the truly misogynistic treatment of women in ancient times, and the effects of this radical worldview are reflected in history. Those criticizing the Bible for its attitude toward women should consider the status of women in the pagan cultures of the Old Testament, New Testament, and early church eras. Even in our modern era, one has only to contrast the status of women living in nations with a Christian heritage to those living in nations without it. Likewise, one should consider the horrific misogyny of industries such as pornography and the sex trade, both of which exist in direct opposition to biblical commands.
As with many other social issues, biblical Christianity lays a foundation leading inescapably to ideas such as value, equality, and freedom for women. Ethics rooted in a Christian worldview have resulted in levels of female equality and opportunity that non-Christian cultures have either never offered or have only considered under pressure from cultures with a Christian background.
It’s also important to note the difference between misogyny described and misogyny endorsed. Books of history may detail the horrors of the Holocaust and the black plague, but we don’t see this as the publisher’s approval of Hitler or epidemic disease. There are certainly descriptions of misogyny in the Bible, but those acts are condemned. One example is the rape and murder of the concubine in Judges 19:25–29, an act so appalling that it sparked a civil war. Critics of the Bible eagerly point to such incidents without mentioning that the act in question is described and decried, not encouraged.
Likewise, questions about misogyny in the Bible need to be separated from whether or not men have attempted to hijack Scripture to justify their prejudice. Men have also, at times, attempted to bolster misogyny using science, history, and even national laws, even when such interpretations are ridiculous. Neither the Israelites, Jesus, nor the early Christian church exhibited misogyny, and the Bible’s ethical framework leaves no room for it. In this way, the Bible cannot be blamed for misogyny or used to justify it. If anything, the need to tear Scripture from its context and twist its meaning shows the opposite: in order to claim misogyny in the Bible, one has to divorce passages from the rest of the text and from Christianity itself.